Man charged with kidnapping woman, forcing her to buy him $800 in items at the mall


Published: Saturday, January 9, 2010 at 6:01 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 9, 2010 at 6:01 p.m.

A Gainesville man was arrested Friday night in connection with a Tuesday kidnapping in which a woman was forced to drive to a bank ATM for cash and to the Oaks Mall, where the suspect reportedly bought about $800 in merchandise on her credit card.

Joseph Barbesco, 36, was arrested after he was spotted by a Gainesville police officer on the lookout for the suspect and was later identified by the victim in a photo lineup, Capt. Ed Book said.

The ordeal began when the woman offered to drive the man to a store so he could buy a gas can to get his car running, but her good Samaritan efforts quickly soured.

"Suspects will often take advantage of people's willingness to help and in this particular case we have a common way that offenders will operate. They will approach somebody and give a story -- I need money for gas, I am sick, my wife is sick," Book said. "It's OK to do good deeds and to be generous, but when a stranger approaches with stories like these, they often are not legitimate. You should not allow your spirit to be generous to put yourself in a position to be victimized."

Two others were arrested with Barbesco on charges not related to the kidnapping.

The case began on Tuesday when the woman reported she was leaving her car in the Kohl's parking lot off Southwest 34th Street and was approached by a man who said he had car problems and needed gas.

She agreed to take him to take him Wal-Mart to buy a gas can. Once inside the car, the man told her he had a knife and ordered her to drive to her bank, police said. She told police she withdrew what she had in her account and gave him $146.

He then made her drive to the Oak's Mall, where he rang up charges for clothing on her credit card, police said. She then dropped him off at the UF Hilton Hotel on Southwest 34th Street. The woman was not hurt.

Book said police on Friday received a call from someone who had been approached in a similar fashion in the parking lot near the Archer Road Wal-Mart, prompting police to send extra officers to the area.

Detective Farrah Lormil was in the Kohl's parking lot about 6:45 p.m., saw Barbesco and realized he matched the description. Book said Barbesco apparently saw Lormil, jumped into a waiting pickup that drove off.

Police said they caught up with the vehicle near the Brighton Park apartment complex off Southwest 34th Street. Barbesco ran and was later tracked to a fire safety closet in the nearby Hannah condominium complex by police dog Grady and Cpl. Tim Durst, police said.

After an investigation, Barbesco was charged with kidnapping and armed robbery. Two people in the truck with him were also charged: Brittany Shannon Mellot, 20, of Hawthorne, with possession of drug paraphernalia and giving a false identification to police; and Leonard Earl Johnson Jr., 30, of Gainesville, with possession of drug paraphernalia and driving without a valid license.

"This was some phenomenal work. Detective Lormil was out there specifically for this and got the ball rolling," Book said.

Police believe the suspects may have committed similar crimes and are asking anyone with information to call detectives at 334-2471.

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